Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Born Again

Jn.3:1-6 - There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Of course Nicodemus was confused. Who could imagine such a thing? Everyone is born just once so how can anyone be born again? Was Jesus teaching some form of reincarnation? That would be against all the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures. But still these words are stunning and provocative and extremely important since the Rabbi said that no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.

Back in the early seventies the term “born again” was used a lot more extensively than it is today. I believe the first time I ever heard the term was from Charles Colson’s book called “Born Again”. Back then I had a post graduate degree in sin and I used my persuasive skills in leading others to follow my pernicious ways. My mother used to say, “When other mothers lament that their kid has gotten in the wrong crowd I always think, not Rick, he creates his own crowd.” She knew me best and I miss her.

I tried the complete array of outward accoutrements in an attempt to fill my void – drugs, alcohol, sex, violence – and of course I never did anything with moderation. My drug habit led me to an arrest and conviction, and my violence led me into a street fight in which I was seriously injured. A few of my friends and I had contemplated robbing a bank and killing the guard as we went in. I told you, I was a sinner par excellence. It was that injury that had me hitchhike to me aunt’s house in northern Jersey.

But it was during the early part of 1975 that the Holy Spirit began to move in my heart and I began to think seriously about God, and specifically Jesus. One of my younger brothers had gotten saved and he told me he was thinking of becoming a minister. It was very confusing to me, but I walked around with a profound sense of purposelessness. I was empty and I knew it.

That is when my brother took me to a play called “Godspell” in Manhattan. Oh yes, God can use almost anything in drawing a sinner to Himself, even things that may not pass the orthodox smell test. Then I heard an interview with Chuck Colson and he shared his testimony and I purchased his book the next day. I cannot fully share what was going through my heart and mind at that time, and no one who knew me suspected that I was meditating on the claims of Jesus Christ. On the outside I was the least likely person who would have ever thought about Jesus, even though I had gone through three years of catechism and was a confirmed member of the Lutheran church where my mother was the choir director. If they only knew who I really was back then.

One cold night in March of 1975 in a city called Clifton, New Jersey, I scaled the face of Garret Mountain and sat overlooking the bright skyline of New York City. It was there that I asked Jesus if He was real and I felt a moving in my spirit that cannot be fully understood unless you have experienced something similar. That night I knew who Jesus was, and I had climbed up a lost sinner, but I climbed down a saved one. I proceeded to drive everyone crazy.

I still went to the bars but I sat on the stool drinking a coke and talking about Jesus to anyone who got near me. Now I am 6’5” and was 230 pounds and I had been a bouncer before so I guess I got away with a lot that some others would not have. And my reputation for violence was always a concern for others even though I had left that world behind me. My evangelistic approach was Neanderthal but passionate. And since Christian shirts back then were not prevalent I made my own crude versions. And as it ended up my brother became a metallurgist and I became a preacher.

But all this happened because I was born again. It really wasn’t until after I was saved that I understood what the Lord meant by that term. Now many Christians were raised in a Christian home and were taught about Christ from the earliest age and they were born again at an age where the change was not so drastic. At a later age this experience will be confirmed within the heart of every child who has been regenerated.

But we need to take this born again experience seriously and with conviction. I am afraid that many who sit in evangelical pews have never been born of the Spirit and yet they have become accustomed to hearing the Biblical phraseology and the gospel of Christ. It would do ever pastor well to once in a while cast a net out into his own congregation and he just may be surprised what God will bring in.

I firmly believe, given my violence and drug use, that had I not been born again, I would not be alive today. All I have and all I am is His and His alone. Luke gives an account of a woman of known promiscuity anointing Jesus feet with ointment and wept openly. The religious leaders wondered about this emotional display, and Jesus said:

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”

Perhaps if we were in touch more with the depth and reality of the monstrous sins that have been forgiven us we would be less inclined to be restrained in our worship of our Blessed Savior. And it is just that knowledge about myself that allows me to love and have compassion concerning the worst sinners among us who wander aimlessly in darkness…

...the same darkness that I once called my life.

1 comment:

Kim K said...

Amazing grace!